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“Rock of Ages” as you’ve never heard it

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Jimmy Needham injects jazz into timeless hymns to thank his fans.

A few years back contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Jimmy Needham left his record label and struck out on his own. He started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his album, Clear the Stage, but to thank his fans for the support, he produced a second, bonus album of hymns.

The Hymns Sessions, Vol. 1 is a collection of timeless hymns that Needham infused with jazz, soul, and pop to make them his own. He does a fantastic job of it. His rendition of “Rock of Ages” sounds like a mix between Jason Mraz and Bruno Mars. He maintains the original melodies of each hymn, while styling the accompaniments around various genres that he felt fit each tune.

Raised in the Greek Orthodox faith, Jimmy wasn’t exposed to a lot of standard Christian hymns until he was in college. In recognition of his Greek Orthodox roots, the first hymn on the album is “Christos Anesti,” the Greek Easter antiphon he would sing as a child.

Of the work, he told Kathy Harris:

Since I was exposed to them, I’ve always loved the old hymns of our Christian past. I’ve always just done my own music since I started. I knew, however, that if I was to try my hand at a cover record that I could not just add to the pile of hymns cover records. I had to take some musical risks. This record was in some ways a big experiment. How far could we push these songs away from the norm and still maintain what makes them so lovely. The result was a record of jazz, Motown era soul, even hip-hop renditions of otherwise very familiar songs. We all had such a blast making this record.

On the album, Jimmy covered eight hymn standards and wrote two originals. The first was “Gospel,” a tune he had written a while ago and reworked for the recording. He explained that it was inspired by a Martin Luther quote, “The gospel is like a fresh, mild and cool breeze in the extreme heat of summer; That is, a comfort and solace in the anguish of the conscience.”

The second original hymn is “It Is Finished,” which explores the implications of Christ’s final words on the cross.

Although The Hymn Sessions is labeled Volume 1, Jimmy admitted that there is no current timetable for Volume 2. We’ll keep on the lookout, however, and bring it to you as soon as it comes.

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